The New York Times is suing the Federal Communications Commision due to the agency’s refusal to release records that the NYT believes could answer questions regarding whether or not Russia played an integral role in swaying the 2016 presidential election, according to Ars Technica. The paper made a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in June 2017 in an effort to obtain server logs regarding the FCC’s public-comment-taking system, which they wanted due to the fact that the FCC could not take public comments shortly following their net neutrality repeal due to a system crash.
The FCC is not complying with the Times requests, claiming that release of such information would violate user privacy, affect the competency of their IT security, and would take too much time and effort. The paper has altered its request tp make it less comprehensive and easier to fulfill, but the FCC will not comply. Here is the paper’s complaint:
The request at issue in this litigation involves records that will shed light on the extent to which Russian
nationals and agents of the Russian government have interfered with the agency notice-and-comment process about a topic of extensive public interest: the government’s decision to abandon “net neutrality.” Release of these records will help broaden the public’s understanding of the scope of Russian interference in the American democratic system.
Despite the clear public importance of the requested records, the FCC has thrown up a series of roadblocks, preventing The Times from obtaining the documents.
Repeatedly, The Times has narrowed its request in the hopes of expediting release of the records so it could explore whether the FCC and the American public had been the victim of orchestrated campaign by the Russians to corrupt the notice-and-comment process and undermine an important step in the democratic process of rule-making. Repeatedly, the FCC has responded to The Times‘s attempt to resolve this matter without litigation with protestations that the agency lacked the technical capacity to respond to the request, the invocation of shifting rationales for rejecting The Times‘s request, and the misapplication of FoIA’s privacy exemption to duck the agency’s responsibilities under FoIA.
The paper is suing the FCC in US District Court for the Southern District of New York and claims that the “FCC’s mishandling of the public comment process for the proposed rule has been well documented.” This is referring to a system crash that the FCC has blamed on a malicious DDoS attack but is widely believed to be a result of the organization’s inability to field such a large volume of online complaints.
The paper also is interested in whether or not Russia was involved in the system’s failure due to the fact that FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote an op-ed that cited the fact that half a million comments that occurred before the crash were from Russian e-mail addresses.
The FCC has denied the paper’s request, claiming that they are legally allowed to do so becuase releasing such information would require releasing individuals’ personal data, thus qualifying it under FoIA exemption. The Times has repeatedly narrowed its request in an effort to get the information it needs without violating any citizen’s privacy and claims that “the FCC is obligated to redact or segregate exempt materials rather than withhold the records in full.”